The Prince Paul Interview (Page One)
"Reminiscing With Prince Paul"
Interview by Kid Saer, recorded at World Headquarters, Newcastle, January 2004.
Saer - I'd like to start by getting some of your history prior to Stetsasonic.
Am I correct in assuming that you were born in Long Island?
Prince Paul - I was born in Queens, but grew up in Long Island
KS - When were you first exposed to hip-hop?
PP - The first time that I ever heard anything that could be described as hip-hop related was back in about '76 or '77. I'd say it was somewhere between Brooklyn and Long Island, my grandmother lived in Brooklyn ad as you know they had a lot of DJ crews out there.
KS - Was this exposure due to tapes being passed around, or was it due to you physically being at block parties?
PP - It was due to being at parties and stuff, I don't remember too many tapes, as you know, back then, it wasn't even called hip hop… it was just 'partying', it was just like "hey! there's somebody DJ-ing over there"
KS - Were you ever a B-Boy, did you get involved with break dancing?
PP - Nah, the only thing I can remember was back in the fifth grade there was like a few kids who were into B-Boy'ing, but it was just only kinda like up-rockin' at that time. It was only later that people got into popping and breaking.
KS - So were you more interested in the DJ's?
PP - I used to go to the parties and would stand and watch the DJ's like this (assumes a wide-eyed, arms-crossed pose - laughs). I was just a kid. I would stand there for hours, the whole night, totally amaze by what they were doing. The records they were playing, I'd never heard of any of them!
KS - Around this time, were the DJ's covering up their records?
PP - Yeah, every DJ was doing that, covering up their labels, but they were kinda stupid too 'cause they would leave the record sleeves stuck up in their crates so you could actually see what they were playing I you could see the sleeve. After the first couple of parties, I started writing down the titles. I used to see if I could find some of them - I mean, I couldn't afford them - but I'd look in the thrift stores and dollar bins for them.
KS - Were you lucky enough to score any of these records from your parents?
PP - A couple. I have brothers that are a lot older than me, they were teenagers at this time, graduating high school and stuff and so I went through a lot of their records.
KS - Did you score any gems off your brothers?
PP - Yes! (laughs) Still got 'em to this day! Hopefully they won't get to see this interview!
KS - I read recently in Wax Poetics that at this time you were down with Biz Markie? Was he from Long Island too?
PP - Yeah. I lived in Amityville whereas he lived a little further out east, maybe about a half-hour away. He used to come through to Amityville to sample the parties and stuff, I met his through some friends. At that time he was calling himself "Busy Bee".
KS - Were you clocking his records? His collection is legendary…
PP - He had a bunch of records sure, but remember we were just kids and didn't have too much money. What Biz had was lists of records... He would go see Bambaataa and the other DJ's spin and he would come back with his little black book full of the names of records he'd heard the DJ's play… he would be saying "oh man! we gotta find this record!". When I met up with Biz I guess I was in the eighth grade, about fourteen…he's a couple of years older than me.
KS - When Paul Winley came out with the "Super Disco Breaks" series, did that really bust the bubble on diggin' for records? Was it like "shit! Now everyone knows what these records are"… did it take a lot o the edge off diggin' for you?
PP - Yeah, when those records came out it did change things forever, but for me at the time, a kid with no money, it meant that I could get access to some of the music that I could never find before. But, on the flip side it meant that all the time you'd spent looking for particular records was now wasted. Also, in some cases, you would be the only one with a particular record, the exclusivity was now gone 'cause everyone could get them. But what really messed it up was when the "Ultimate Beats And Breaks" series came out… man, even back in the day using those records for breaks was considered cheating!
KS - Surely though now, in retrospect, they are a good thing? I mean, you don't have to play your originals out? Just get two copies of the "Ultimate" records?
PP - When I spin wax, especially breakbeats, I always bring my originals. I've used them since I started DJing so they're all jacked up anyway. They still work though! On my travels though, should I find a good, clean copy of one of the original records, I'll buy it and keep it at home for myself. For most records, I have three copies.
KS - Moving on… How did Stetsasonic first come together?
PP - I first met Stet when I was 16 or 17 and I was DJing at a block party in Brooklyn. At that time, I thought I was kinda cool, doing little DJ tricks to draw a crowd. The crowd was watching me and in there were Daddy-O, D-Lite and a guy called Grand Supreme who was down with them at that time. Fruitkwan joined Stet later. The approached me and told me they were down with what I was doing and asked I want to work with them. I was still just a kid so I was like "yeah!"
KS - Wasn't there two DJs down with Stetsasonic at first?
PP - Yeah. DBC started DJing for Stetsasonic until we started bring the keyboards out. Really, DBC's main role within Stetsasonic was keyboards and beat programming. I was the DJ and we had Wise beat-boxing… Later on we had Bobby Simmons playing live drums…
KS - I'm glad you mentioned the live drummer. To me, Stetsasonic were the first true hip-hop band.
PP- Yeah, that's what we were trying to achieve. "Go Stetsa" was the first time we used the live drums.
KS - A record I love... Talking of wax, was the first Stetsasonic twelve called "Just Say Stet"?
PP - Indeed, released in 1985. Oh my God, that's nearly 20 years ago! (laughs).
KS - We first heard it here in the UK on one of the StreetSounds Hip Hop compilation albums. I seem to remember that it was mixed with the 2 Live Crew "What I Like"…
PP - I've no heard of those comp's. Did the mix with 2 Live work? Yeah? Wow!
KS - In the end, Stetsasonic released three albums. Looking at the dates on them, there must have been some overlap with De La Soul?
PP - Yes. I started work with De La during the recording for the second Stet album. I used to bring the De La guys into the studio with me. We recorded "Plug Tuning" back in 1987, but it wasn't released until 1988.
KS - Any problems as a result of both groups being signed to Tommy Boy?
PP- No. With De La we were just recording demos. I didn't initially approach Tommy Boy at first because I'd had better offers for De La from elsewhere. Tommy Boy was an okay label but the money Stet received wasn't great. Personally, it was a good time for me because with Stetsasonic I was a DJ, but with De La I was the producer.
KS - "Three Feet High" must have made some serious money for Tommy Boy?
PP - Indeed. It was a massive hit for them. As soon as that record came out, they were able to spruce up their office a bit (laughs). People started dressing at Tommy Boy a lot smarter after that record came out.
KS - Did you receive financial reward?
PP - From "3 Feet High" I received my first royalty cheque. Ever.